A Sequence in Three Parts
Waiting for Daybreak
Dawn was always tardy on that designated day,
or so it seemed to three young girls
anxious to find the perfect Christmas tree.
Faces pressed against the window,
we watched the horses
as they stamped impatiently
snorting steamy breath into the air,
nodding their heads as if deep in conversation.
What d’ya think they’ll pick this year,
a cedar or a pine? Old Smokey
might be asking of Fast Mike,
so called because his only pace
was slow or stop.
Age put him out to pasture
but for this one glorious snow swept day
so gray the sun might have changed its mind
on shining. Mittens and mufflers
and brightly colored hats
knitted by my mother’s patient hands
were waiting at the ready
for the first faint sign of day break
while father rigged the harness gingerly,
knowing once we heard the bells day had begun.
To us that meant it was time to go, to ride
the flat bed sled across the snow,
to find the perfect tree and take it home.
Picking the Perfect Christmas Tree
The snow decked woods was ours that day,
and all that grew was part of our Christmas bounty,
We skated skateless on the frozen forest floor,
pulling armloads of running cedar, baskets full of holly
and mistletoe, and bagging boughs of aromatic pine,
A gentle reminder: we were there to find a tree.
There were evergreens of all kinds and if
we’d had our druthers, we’d have harvested one of each,
but one was the limit and we didn’t have all day to get it,
though it always took that long.
We craned our necks, it was quite a stretch to see the pines
that grew so tall, but they were mostly on the spindly side,
not cultivated for their shape nor hue. Usually we made do
with a cedar, so we searched until we found the one,
that perfect specimen with lacey branches round and full,
Its bottom was much too fat to use it all, We trimmed
away a bit to mix with holly leaves and pinecones,
wreathes for gifts and for our door, It was all
that we had hoped and more, We’d really never seen one
quite so nice.
By now, our mittens wet, our fingers were like ice
but the sled piled high proved
that the best things in life are truly free.
Just before sunset, we headed home,
happy with our perfect Christmas tree.
Trimming the Tree
In those days, when 45s were records,
we stacked the Christmas songs atop the spindle.
The last note didn’t fade til after dark, bedtime
on that backwoods farm.
With cocoa simmering on the stove,
the horses fed and in the barn,
we were ready to decorate the tree.
We used the same time honored angel every year;
her hair somewhat stringy from the wear, but still
our pride and joy of all the trim… My father
made quite a ceremony out of placing her just right
and then he strung the lights around the limbs,
making sure to alternate the colors.
Dedicated to this cause,
it was his only claim to artistry.
Once the tree was topped and lights were lit,
he washed his hands of the whole affair.
My sisters and I wrapped garlands laced with cranberries
around the tree’s green girth and then carefully
unwrapped the fragile blown glass birds
escorted to the boughs by our mother.
Glass ornaments were a treasure
not to be treated carelessly.
The measure of their worth was not in dollars,
but in our history. Next came the colored balls,
some home baked from a special age old recipe
most recently discovered as play dough.
Once all the ornaments were arranged to our satisfaction,
the tedious work had just begun.
Each icicle claimed its unique home,
Not thrown, not tossed, but lovingly set upon a branch,
on the very tip to cascade
like a waterfall caught in mid flow.
The fire was crackling on the hearth, outside the snow fell quietly,
gently blanketing earth. Each year, in unison, we would all agree:
Our tree, a study of gilded red, gold and green, was the best tree
we’d ever seen. Years later, in my own living room,
abloom with Christmas glee, my boy’s shining eyes
said the same sweet words to me.